21 December 2009

Review: Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks. Orbit, 1987/2008

The Culture is Banks' future post-human Utopia, of sorts. People in the Culture can change their gender at will, secrete a variety of drugs from genofixed glands, don't use money, and have hyper-intelligent machines. The Culture's machines, unlike those in, say, Terminator, are fairly benevolent, and the Culture's people are happy living under them, in their hedonistic paradise.

The Culture's spaceships are controlled by Minds, one variety of the hyper-intelligent AIs.

Consider Phlebas looks at the Idiran-Culture war, which is a war of principles. The Idirans are a war-like species (think the Klingons, except tripedal beetle-lizards) who are immortal religious zealots and consider the Culture an inferior species. The Culture sees the Idirans as a threat to their lifestyle and expansion throughout the galaxy.

Bora Horza Gobuchul is a Changer who works for the Idirans. Changers are a subspecies of human, who, as their name implies, can alter their appearance at will, to resemble someone else. He doesn't like the Culture's reliance on machines and thinks their plan for life is too sterile, and inhuman.

Perosteck Balveda is an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances division, a sort of spy, who is trying to stop Horza.

A Mind escapes from an Idiran attack and hides itself on a Planet of the Dead: a place where the people wiped each other out millenia ago. Planets of the Dead are guarded by Dra'Azon, a highly advanced species. The Idirans want to get their hands on the Mind, because it's Culture, and they want to control it. The Culture wants to get their hands on it, because it's more advanced than anything else they'd had before.

Horza used to live on Schar's World, so the Idirans task him with going there. He joins up with a hapless troop of mercenaries, and he sets about his task, with misadventures befalling him along the way.

The text is quite long -- 515 pages -- but it doesn't drag. Banks is good at dropping hints and picking them up chapters later. It ends on more of a downer than I prefer for books I read, but it fits the story, so I won't complain.

I've also read The Player of Games (more game theory than I cared about, so it was kind of boring) and Excession (wherein the ships take center stage, and I enjoyed it greatly.)

If you like space operas on a grand scale (where the ships travel kilo-light-years per hour), pick up some Banks.

20 December 2009

Disney World!

I went to Disney World with the in-laws for winter holiday festivities and togetherness time. I hadn't been since winter 95 or so, and the park has expanded a lot since then!

I won't go into excruciating detail here, since there's no easy way to cut text on Blogger, so you just get the highlights.

- We stayed in the Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs. They were nice, and recently renovated and updated. They were a bit further from more social things than I may have liked (the restaurant in the main house and pool were a bit far to walk), but they were comfortable and quiet.

- The Disney Dining Plan is more trouble than it's worth. It meant that one was limited to choosing certain items, when one may have preferred something else, so as not to waste the pre-paid food options.

- We ate at Marrakesh (Morocco pavilion, Epcot), Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge), Kona Cafe (Grand Polynesian), the Rose and Crown (UK pavilion, Epcot), the Electric Umbrella (Epcot), Columbia Harbour House (Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom), and a place in The Land whose name I forget. The Dole Whip float was awesome: soft-serve pineapple ice cream in pineapple juice. Hit the spot!

- The new Everest ride goes backward in the dark, and I don't recommend it.
- Space Mountain is still fun.
- Kilimanjaro Safari is best early in the morning, when the critters are active.
- The Jack Sparrow insertions into Pirates are subtle and well-done.
- Haunted Mansion is still cheese-tastic.
- IllumiNations is best viewed from Norway.
- Spectromagic is as much fun as it was when I was 6, even if they changed it a lot (and don't call it Mickey's Electric Light Parade anymore.)

- I got my picture with Thumper, Donald, Lilo & Stitch, and Aladdin & Jasmine.
- I got an Eeyore plush in safari costume, with a detachable Velcro tail.

11 December 2009

Book review: All the Shah's Men

All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Stephen Kinzer. Wiley 2003, 2008 (additional preface)

When Kinzer first published this book in 2003, GW Bush had started a pre-emptive war in Afghanistan and was preparing to start a second pre-emptive war cum nation-building exercise in Iraq. The average American couldn't have told you then that the US had aided Saddam Hussein in the early 80s, during the Iran-Iraq war. They probably still couldn't, today.

This book is a history of the 1953 US- and British-led coup in Iran that overthrew the first democratically-elected ruler of the country, Mohammed Mossadegh, and reinstated a corrupt Shah. The average American doesn't even know this happened. It wasn't covered in my history classes in high school. The US government didn't even acknowledge their part in it until 2000: almost 50 years after it happened (and, for the record, 2 years after I graduated from college.)

Kinzer begins with a brief overview of Iranian & Persian history, starting with Darius, touching on Mohammed and the Arabic/Islamic conquests, and discussing the unique version of Islam practiced in Iran, Shi'ism, which combines some aspects of Zoroastrianism into Mohammed's teachings. (The differences between Sunni and Shia Islam are more complex than that. I'm not qualified to go into detail on it.) There was a fight over succession, between Mohammed's grandson Ali and someone else. The Shia believed that Ali was the rightful successor, and he fought -- and died -- to maintain his position.

Ali's sacrifice, going against overwhelming odds, to fight a corrupt regime is a cornerstone of Iranian culture (which stems from Zoroastrian belief, I believe). Iranian history is filled with revolutions against corrupt dynasties.

He goes into great detail on the story of the coup itself. He begins with Mossadegh's fight to nationalize the oil company. Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was controlled by England, and they gave a meager fraction of the profits to Iran. Mossadegh wanted to see the books, and he went to the world court in the Hague to get England to treat them fairly. It didn't work. Then he was elected prime minister, and he decreed AIOC to be fully Iranian.

The British treated them horribly, as they did all their colonies. The Iranian workers at Abadan refinery lives in squalor, while the British had luxurious houses and servants. The colonialist attitude they expressed is appalling.

The British didn't want to lose their oil, so Churchill pestered Truman to help them overthrow the government. Truman thought it was a really bad idea and refused. Then Eisenhower was elected, and the Dulles brothers because CIA chief and Secretary of State. They had a Goal, and they wanted to overthrow Mossadegh, damn the consequences. They used the spectre of the 1950s - communism - to convince Eisenhower that it was necessary (because the USSR bordered Iran, and there was an active communist party there.)

Western politics in the Middle East are a sordid tale of nation building and colonialism, founded on access to oil. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

After a year of politicking in Iran, Kermit Roosevelt (Teddy's grandson) instigated a coup. The first attempt was unsuccessful, but a second attempt several days later worked. The Shah was reinstated, and he became increasingly dictatorial, until 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters declared the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The CIA's success in Iran (they were warned that it was a bad idea, but the Dulles brothers were single-minded) led them to believe that coups and nation-building exercises carried out covertly were a good idea, and the US went on to overthrow governments around the world.

Iran has been in the news recently, especially since the election in June. For anyone who wants to understand better what's happening there now, and why they took the American embassy hostage in 1979, and why we're the Great Satan, I recommend this book. Actually, everyone should read this book.

I knew a couple guys in high school who came from Iran. One of them, Sepehr N, must have come fairly young, because he didn't have an accent at all. The other, Soheil M, came in 8th or 9th grade, and he had ESL classes for all of 9th grade. (They both graduated at the top of our class.) I vaguely remember Soheil mentioning why he'd left; I want to say he had family in the military? I don't know. I wish I did. I wish there had been some class where history other than the Glorious American Society was discussed. That would be a good thing.

09 December 2009

Double-barrel review: Two Regencies by Georgette Heyer

Lady of Quality, 1972; Sourcebooks reissue 2007

Annis Wychwood, age 29, is "on the shelf," as they say. She enjoys being single, but finds her brother irritating, so she moves to Bath with a chaperone. One day, she meets a pair of teenagers in a broken carriage, who end up changing her life. The girl is an orphan, left in the charge of her aunt, who keeps her in an overprotected life. Her uncle (on the other side), Mr. Oliver Carleton, is rude and generally wants nothing to do with her, not being particularly interested in raising a teenager.

It's no surprise that Annis and Oliver meet and cross their verbal swords, exchanging set-downs and the like in the Regency style. It's also no surprise that they end up falling for each other, somewhat inexplicably. (You can deduce that simply by reading the back of the book.) But half the fun of reading a romance novel, whose outcome you can generally foresee when you meet your protagonists, is how the characters get there.

I liked this one better than the next one, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

The Grand Sophy, 1950; Sourcebooks reissue 2009.

Sophy is sent to live with her aunt and uncle while her father is on a diplomatic mission to Brazil. Her mother died when she was young, and she spent far too much time (for the mores of the period) around soldiers. She's headstrong and generally fabulous. She's only 22, which I kept forgetting.

While at her aunt and uncle's, she resolves to "fix" some bad matches in her family, starting with her cousin Cecelia, who's fallen in love with a poet. Her second target is her cousin Charles, who's taken up with a rather dull character, who's marrying him for the money and is against Fun.

Naturally, Charles and Sophy take to each other like cats and dogs. I'd forgotten that it was common (or at least not taboo) among nobles during that period (indeed, up until the early 20th century) to marry their cousins, or I wouldn't have been quite as surprised when Charles' reaction indicated he was going to marry Sophy.

A Heyer novel typically includes manners and nobles and a romance starting with mutual dislike. It also includes a list of things writers are told not to do: synonyms for said, infodumping characters' life stories when they're introduced, jumping POV without warning. Once you get used to these things, which have fallen out of modern publishing conventions, it's OK, but it takes a bit.

That said, after reading them, I wanted to find something more akin to what I'm working on, to get my mind's gears working in that direction. So I picked up a book that's been on my shelf for months. I'm currently in chapter 3.

06 December 2009

Book review: The New Space Opera 2

The New Space Opera 2, eds. Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan. Eos, 2009.

I love space opera. CJ Cherryh's Foreigner and Alliance-Union series rank highly in my favorites, as does Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan series (especially Memory and The Vor Game.) so, clearly, an anthology of 20-ish space opera novellas by some people I'd heard of and some I hadn't was right up my alley.

I'm not going to review each story. Some I liked better than others; that's generally the case in anthologies.

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Moon's "Chameleons," a story about a man hired to protect a pair of pampered children on their way to school, for whom everything that could go wrong, does. There's a look at what it means to be human, as well as classism and prejudice, when they encounter the chameleons.

Another story I liked was Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Defect," about a spy who tried to come in from the cold, and found it harder than she expected.

Justina Robinson's "Cracklegrackle" is compelling and heartbreaking, the story of a man's search for his daughter, lost (kidnapped?) from a mining expedition.

Scalzi's "Tale of the Wicked" was enjoyable, with the ships having a mind of their own.

Mike Resnick's "Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz" was funny -- if you read it in the style of an old west tale, with the storyteller being at least half full of shit.

Overall, it's enjoyable, and I only skipped a few stories after failing to get into them after a dozen pages. I won't say which ones they were.

25 November 2009

Book review: Flower of Life

Flower of Life, Fumi Yoshinaga. DMP books, 4 vols. (Amazon)

You may remember my pair of posts from September on Yoshinaga's Oo-oku (a new volume comes out in early December, and I'm excited!)

Flower of Life is a high school story, mostly comedy but with an aspect of drama. Main character Harutaro Hanazono starts high school a month late because he had leukemia. He befriends a semi-outcast chubby kid named Shota and a manga freak named Majima. Majima is president of the manga club, and Harutaro likes drawing, so he joins. There's a couple girls in the club, and the five of them become friends. In some respects, it's like Genshiken in high school. (Side note: Genshiken is funny because it's true. I should probably write about that at some point, too.)

It seems like a typical slice of life story, but interwoven is Harutaro's family drama. Because of his leukemia, his family treats him like he's fragile, though his sunny disposition keeps him from noticing. There's a reason for that, but it's not disclosed until volume 4, so I'll not spoil that for you.

Yoshinaga is one of the few mangaka whose works I'll pick up just for existing. I love them.

23 November 2009

Book review: Bittersweet

Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate, Alice Medrich. Artisan, 2003. (Amazon)

I picked this book up several years ago, and I read it then. It's a cookbook, devoted entirely to chocolate: truffles, cakes, brownies, and some savory dishes. Yet it's also a memoir, with stories about Medrich's experiences with chocolate: eating it, learning to cook with it, and teaching others to cook with it.

There are also notes about equipment, terminology, and a convenient conversion guide - if you use 75% chocolate, you'll need to change the sugar by X and the butter by Y to get the same results as with 55% chocolate.

I had a hankering for brownies recently, and I saw this book languishing on my shelf. I thought, "I bet there's a really good brownie recipe in here." Indeed, there is. I need to make more of the recipes in here. The wild mushroom ragout with cacao nibs sounds *divine*, except Ben won't eat mushrooms, so it's a bit of a waste.

I discovered that I'd bookmarked a chestnut torte recipe, and I vaguely recall making it. I have 2 lbs of chestnuts in my fridge; perhaps I'll make it again.

21 November 2009

Book review: Palimpsest

Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente, Bantam/Spectra 2009 (Amazon)

Cat's latest book has generated a lot of praise, mostly about her lyrical prose. I read her Big Idea post, and I thought the concept was intriguing: A sexually-transmitted city, whose map appears on your skin, and people who go there keep wanting to go back.

I didn't like the book. It makes me sad, because I wanted to like it -- the characters were interesting, even the ones you wanted to kick in the teeth, and it's generally quite sex-positive, and the characters had a wide variety of sexualities (including one who gets off on trains.) Some of my friends are friends with Cat, and she seems like the kind of person I could chat with over drinks at a con.

It was the writing that spoiled it for me. The lyrical prose so widely lauded bored me. At times, it seemed like she sacrificed the story for the words themselves, and writing should never call attention to itself. The execution, the way she put four separate yet interwoven stories together, was well done, but I couldn't get over my irritation at using a word's second cousin. It felt slightly pretentious at times, too.

However, if you're a fan of prose in an eyewatering shade of purple, it might not bother you.

18 November 2009

Long time, no update.

I haven't written here since October 21, according to my blogger dashboard. Yikes! I guess I don't think the day to day tedium is all that interesting, either to write about or for you to read about ;)

I've been working hard on my WIP, tentatively titled Iron and Rust. Since I've been basically unemployed since early October (I have a job, but my agency hasn't had any placements for me since then), I've decided to stop futzing around and get serious on this. I've got a daily target of 1500 words now, and when I sit down to write, I quit Firefox. It's been working fairly well. I've written 5000 words since Monday.

I'm vaguely concerned that I'm at 22,000 words and have reached the approximate midpoint of the story, since it should really be closer to 90,000 when I finish. But scenes seem to take up more space when I write them down than I think they will, and there's still the upcoming major battle. I also have a lot of places where I should go back and fix wording, add more detail and description, than sort of thing, and plenty of places where I could easily add another scene or even another chapter. I'll get through this draft and see where I need to add things in, do that, then go back and edit the details and repetition and suchlike. After that, it'll go off to betas.

In awesome news, I sold my 840-word short "U8: Alexanderplatz" to a historical speculative fiction anthology. I'm pretty stoked about that. Publication date is not yet announced, so I'll let everyone know as soon as I do.

I'm planning to go up to Mom's for Thanksgiving, and there's an exhibit of Safavid Persian and Ottoman Turkish art at the Sackler & Freer galleries, which I definitely want to see. Then Ben's folks are taking us to Disney World the week(ish) before Christmas. I haven't been since college, and none of them have ever been. Should be fun.

Less fun will be the crown I'm getting next month, with 2 or 3 more teeth my dentist is watching. This will be my fourth crown, and my second this year. If Blue Cross didn't have such stingy payments for bite guards, I could have gotten one six years ago and saved myself (and them, don't forget) several thousand dollars. Six years ago, there wasn't overwhelming proof that I grind my teeth, so they refused to pay. Bastards.

21 October 2009

Happy Birthday, Ursula LeGuin!

Today is LeGuin's 80th birthday, and also the 40th anniversary of the publication of Hugo-winner The Left Hand of Darkness.

LeGuin is one of my favorite writers. She's written fantasy, science fiction, and YA novels and short stories. You can read her extensive bibliography here, or the short version. (I need to get the other 2 books in the Annals of the Western Shore...)

I first read The Left Hand of Darkness in 1986 or 87, when I was in fifth grade. I'd just read Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time books, borrowed from my elementary school library, and LeGuin was shelved right next to her, so... I can't remember if I read the Earthsea books first, or if they were checked out at the time. I'm fairly sure most of the book went straight over my head, but I loved it. I found a copy at the used book store 7 or 8 years ago and reread it then. I've been working to complete my collection over the years, slowly. It's hard to get out of print books, you know.

The Left Hand of Darkness was a groundbreaking work in 1969. It's part of the Hainish cycle, a loose series of stories set in a future of space exploration and contact. On a planet called Winter, an explorer cum ambassador for the Ekumen (the league of worlds) befriends a Gethenian and goes on a walk with them. Gethenians are androgynous, almost a-gendered, except for a period called kemmer, during which they take on one set of sexual characteristics. It's not always straightforward which set they get, and it's not even always the same set! There's a story of political intrigue and betrayal, of course, though that seems like a side concern.

LeGuin's strongest suit, which is no doubt related to being the daughter of a very famous anthropologist, is creating worlds you can believe in, populated with people you can believe in. Much of the Hainish cycle reads like a vehicle for cultural anthropology. The Ekumen goes around exploring new worlds and observing the native inhabitants (without interference.) They may interact, but there are Rules about influencing their societies.

Her prose is sparse, almost Spartan, but still incredibly detailed. It's as far from the lyrical purpleness and skirting the point favored by some modern SF/F writers as possible, yet her imagery is at least as evocative as theirs. Moreso, perhaps, because it's not obfuscated under deliberately clever word choices.

If you've never read anything she's written, you're missing out.

Happy birthday, UKL. May there be many more.

13 October 2009

Book review: The Graveyard Book

Since this book was sitting on my shelf for a year, and I'd read a bunch of space opera, I thought I'd go for something different: a children's ghost story. Considering the book just celebrated a year on the NYT bestseller list, it was about time...

Neil Gaiman writes books about myths: American Gods, Anansi Boys, Stardust. His YA and children's books also have a touch of the mythic.

The Graveyard Book is about a boy named Nobody Owens, who grows up in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts. It's a retelling of The Jungle Book. In the opening chapter (and I don't consider this a spoiler), Bod's parents and older sister are murdered by the man Jack, but year-old Bod escapes, because he's a crawler, and he crawls out to the graveyard next door, where a pair of ghosts adopt him and raise him as their own. The whole graveyard chips in, actually.

Always in the background, until a turning point halfway through, is the mystery of Bod's family's murder and the man Jack. I don't want to go into detail, because Neil's revelations are wonderful and timed perfectly.

It's a story of growing up and learning who you are, and learning how to fit into your world, which is one of the main themes of children's and YA lit. It's got ghosts and werewolves and vampires and ghouls and bullies at school and a fleeting hint of romance. (It's not a kissing book, though. No worries.)

And a nice disclaimer for the FTC: I bought this book with my own money. I have no ties to Neil Gaiman, as much as I wish I did, because he's really adorable and has the dearest accent. I met him once at a signing and got him to sign a couple books (which I'd also paid for myself), and he was very nice and British, despite having 700 people to sign books for, just that night.

04 October 2009

World Beer Festival 2009, Durham NC

Yesterday was the WBF in Durham. I've gone the last three years and enjoyed it, and I plan to continue attending in the future. (I'll get back to posting about writing or books or whatever sometime soon. Promise?)

As is traditional, I'm compiling a list of the beers I tried and what I thought of them, if I remember. The problem with beer sampling is that it's still kinda alcoholic. ;) This year, the program book helpfully included an alphabetical list of breweries and had listed the beers the brewers brought, with little boxes where you could mark down what you thought of them (1-5).

* denotes breweries in the Southeast; ** denotes breweries within NC

*Abita: Abbey Ale. I marked this one a 4, which means I liked it. It was like a dubbel or tripel, kind of heavy but still smooth and drinkable. I asked the guy working at the booth about the Satsuma Wit, and he said they're adding it to their permanent lineup as a summer seasonal, because it went over very well. This pleases me. (The Satsuma Wit is a Belgian white with satsuma orange added in the process. It's delightful and refreshing; perfect for a July afternoon.)

**Asheville Brewing: Ninja Porter. I tried this one toward the end of the evening, and I didn't like it. I marked down '1' in the box, but I can't recall why I didn't like it.

*Atlanta Brewing: Double chocolate oatmeal porter. 4. I have a poor track record with oatmeal porters; I don't know what it is about them. But this one, damn. It was sweet but not cloying, and had enough chocolate to balance out whatever it is I don't like about oatmeal porters.

Atwater Block Brewery: Vanilla java porter. 5. Sweet jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, this was divine. The vanilla made it, I think.

Belgoo Beer: Magus. 5. This is a white beer, and I really liked it.

**Big Boss: Harvest Time pumpkin ale: 4; Monkey Business Belgian farmhouse ale: 5. This was toward the end of the evening, so my tasting was a bit ... subdued? The pumpkin was good, and I could taste the spices. Ben said he liked it better than the Shipyard, so I may have to track some down before Halloween. The Monkey Business was really good - I think it reminded me of a golden ale, but I'm not sure on that, unfortunately.

Bosteels Brewery: Triple Karmiliet. 5. I believe this was a tripel. It was also toward the end, so my memory is a bit fuzzy. It was a nice clear golden color, though.

Sam Adams: Imperial Stout. 5. Another entry in the Imperial line, this is bold and strong, as you'd expect from an imperial stout. Unlike others I've tried, this one doesn't have the alcohol aftertaste, so if you prefer your imperial stouts smooth, go for this one. (They also had the imperial white, which I enjoy. It's not what you'd expect from a white - it's almost thick, and very strongly flavored.)

*Charleston Brewing: Half Moon Hefeweizen. 4. I could have given this a 5, I think. It was a very nice, very refreshing hefeweizen, though iirc it was filtered.

Deschutes Brewery: Black Butte Porter. 2. There's something about porters that makes me either love them or hate them, and I wish I knew what it was.

**Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery: Baltic porter. 4. This was a porter that reminded me of a Belgian tripel, or possibly the New Holland Dragon's Milk. It was strange, but it worked.

**Foothills Brewing: stout. 2. I think this had a sour-hoppy taste to it that made me dislike it.

Fordham Brewing: Oak barrel stout. 4. I don't remember this one much, though it was relatively early on. But I noted that I liked it.

Gordon Biersch: Hefeweizen. 4+. The sign on this one said the hefeweizen had notes of bubblegum and banana, so I had to try it. It definitely tasted like bananas. Ben said he could taste the bubblegum. If you're into that sort of thing, it's pretty awesome.

Great Lakes Brewing: Christmas Ale. 3. I think this was fairly inoffensive, but I wasn't moved to enjoy it.

Kona Brewery: Pipeline porter. 3. Again with the porter problem.

Lao Brewery: Laotian beer. Didn't like it at all.

Leinenkugel's: Honey Weiss: 4; Berry Weiss: 4. Both delightful, refreshing wheat beers. The berry is raspberry, and it's a lot more fruity than, for example, Abita's Purple Haze.

**Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery: Blackberry wheat. 3. Generally inoffensive, but not particularly remarkable.

**Lone Rider: Shotgun Betty. 5. This is a hefeweizen, and I really enjoyed it. It was almost crossed with a white beer, iirc.

Malheur: Malheur 12. 4. This is a quadrupel, which I'm generally inclined to appreciate.

*Moon River Brewing: Wild Wacky Wit. 5. I think this one reminded me a lot of Hoegaarden, which is never a bad thing.

**Mother Earth Brewing: Weeping Willow Wit. 3-. I was kind of surprised to find a pagan-themed organic brewery out of Kinston, NC, but I didn't like their beer. I want to like organic beer, but there's just something off about them.

**Natty Greene's: Wildflower witbier. 4.

North Coast Brewing: Pranqster. 4. Belgian style golden ale.

*RJ Rockers: Son of a Peach wheat beer. 5. Holy crap, this was peachy and wheaty and I could probably drink it all day.

Singha: Did not like.

Tibet Lhasa Brewery: Also did not like.

**Top of the Hill: Old Well White. 3. Completely inoffensive, but not remarkable. I'd probably order it next time I go there for dinner, if they have it.

**Triangle Brewery: Belgian-style abbey dubbel. 4. I also wanted to try the Belgian golden and the Belgian white, but I didn't.

I wanted to try *Thomas Creek's Stillwater vanilla cream ale, but they were out.

22 September 2009

Fumi Yoshinaga's Oo-oku, part 2

Yesterday I gave an overview of Yoshinaga's work and some genre definitions. Today I'm going to talk about Oo-oku: the inner chambers, volume 1. The manga won the 2009 Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize, and the English version is being released under the Viz Signature line.

The story opens with a vignette about a farming family in early Edo-era Japan, whose little boy goes off to the woods and is mauled by a bear. After he dies, his brothers and father and all the boys become ill. Eight of ten die. This disease, with symptoms similar to smallpox, remains endemic in Japan, and boy children are rare.

The next chapter is years later, still during the Tokugawa shogunate. A young man, the scion of a samurai family, trying to avoid being wed to a woman he doesn't love, decides to apply to the Inner Chambers of Edo Palace. He's accepted, and he learns of the strange customs there. I won't go into further detail, because that would spoil the story.

The young shogun, a seven-year-old girl, is sickly, and when she dies, her aunt Yoshimune becomes shogun. Yoshimune notices that for record-keeping purposes, the shogun and their retainers are listed as men, and when they marry, their husbands are entered with female names. "It's almost as if the country was once run by men," she says. The reader, being aware that it's an alternate history story, and knowing that the Tokugawas were men (or were they?), knows the truth, and as the first volume ends, wants to learn with Yoshimune why the record keeping is the way it is, and wants to see what else is different, and what reforms Yoshimune will make.

In the Inner Chambers, the men, while treasured and told not to over exert themselves (or they'll get sick), still act like plausible men of their era. Mizuno, the young samurai, is a typical Yoshinaga spunky hero, who's good at kendo and interested in fashion. (In a capital city, upper class families, which samurai were, have to pay attention to trends and fashions. His fashion sense is manifest in the style of his topknot and tonsure.)

The women act like women of their era, to an extent. In an alternate world where women vastly outnumber men, there's competition for 'seed,' and only families of certain classes may take sons in law (ie, marry their daughters to a man.) So women turn, essentially, to brothels. On the other side of that coin, since women outnumber men, women have taken over the government and the army. In the manga, it is explained that, because of the existing bureaucracy, when the men died, it was easy for women to take their jobs seamlessly.

The English version: The Viz Signature line uses slightly oversize pages, and has a very nice full color cover with overleaf. The first three inside pages are printed in color as well. (Other Viz Signature releases include Monster and Pluto, by Naoki Urasawa, both of which are also recipients of the Tezuka Prize.) There's an explicit content warning printed on the cover, which is somewhat misleading, unless one finds mention of sexual activity explicit. The presentation of the manga is very nice. (I continually wish that the title pages for each chapter could be printed in color as well, but I understand that's difficult with how books are printed and bound.)

One interesting editorial decision was to have the characters speaking (oftentimes) in a Shakespearean style, thee and thou and hath, etc. It was somewhat jarring at first, but it makes sense. The Tokugawa shogunate began around 1600, so using archaic language of that period is logical. I don't read enough Japanese to have the original to know whether Yoshinaga wrote in an archaic form of Japanese. It's an interesting decision for Akemi Wegmüller at Viz to have made, and I think it works, once you get used to it.

I, for one, can't wait to find out what Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune is going to do next.

21 September 2009

Fumi Yoshinaga's Oo-oku, part 1

I bought Oo-oku, by Fumi Yoshinaga, a few weeks ago, and I just had a chance to read it. I'm going to do a brief review of volume 1 (all that's out in English so far), but before I do that, I'm going to have to fill out some background.

Fumi Yoshinaga is one of the few mangaka (Japanese comic artists) whose work I'll buy on sight. I want to say Antique Bakery was the first of her works I picked up, and I was hooked. I own everything of hers that's been released in English.

She mostly writes boys' love manga, which is a genre of romance starring two men, written by women, for women. (This is not to say that there aren't men who enjoy BL; just that the target demographic is female.) It's got a particular artistic style, often featuring androgynous characters. Like typical shoujo (comics for girls) romance, there's a focus on the relationships between the characters.

There are two major flavors of BL. The first basically takes a typical shoujo boy/girl romance and draws the girl character as a (particularly effeminate or androgynous) boy. The woo-ee (girl character) is weak, simpering, in need of rescue, too stupid to live, and IMO boring as hell. I don't like that type of character in any story, regardless of its gender.

The other, which I prefer, shows both halves of the romantic pairing as strong (in their own ways). There's a bit of cultural something involved with why that's potentially easier to do in Japan with two male characters, rather than one male and one female, and I'm not an expert on that topic by any means. However, gender roles in Japan are currently in the 1950s, and feminism hasn't quite caught on yet. (The very brief overview version!)

So. Yoshinaga's characters fall into the latter category, if you didn't guess that already. They've all got their strengths and weaknesses, and while some are physically weaker than others and/or need rescuing, there's a good reason for it in the story; something other than "the girl character needs rescuing."

The basic premise of Oo-oku is that a smallpox-like disease kills boys, so there aren't many left. It remains a threat, and Japan has too few men.

I read a book, A Brother's Price, by Wen Spencer, based on a similar premise, but it was AWFUL. The men were basically simpering delicate flowers, concerned with makeup and prettiness and all the things you associate with stereotypical women. The hero was too stupid to live. The story was more contrived than a Rube Goldberg device. I wanted to set it on fire. (Instead, I sold it to a used book store.)

Yoshinaga has done it right. Stay tuned for my review, which will be posted tomorrow.

08 September 2009

Back from Dragon*Con

Mostly caught up on the internets I missed, though I admit I just skimmed most of it and triaged the hell out of my RSS feeds.

I saw my dad for dinner and drinks Thursday, which was enjoyable, especially the drink that tasted like Christmas.

I got 3 of my books signed by Lois McMaster Bujold (Memory x2 and Young Miles).

I was on 2 panels: one discussing LMB's SF vs fantasy (which turned into a rousing discussion of the Miles books) and the other about her work in translation.

I heard the first chapter and a bit of Cryoburn, the new (and final ;_;) Miles book, coming out November 2010. I want it *now.* Damn, it'll be hardcover, won't it? That means it won't fit the shelf with the rest of them. Hurm.

LMB reminds me of my mother in law. It's really weird. They're about the same age and have a few accent-wise things in common, despite being from disparate parts of the country.

I met a couple folks from Broad Universe, which I need to join.

And beyond that, I saw a bunch of awesome friends & stayed up too late & ate crappy food & managed not to spend too much money.

01 September 2009

Outer Alliance Pride Day post

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

I'm not yet published, and I've decided to pretty much scrap the SF romance novella I wrote (for a variety of reasons, including that the plot was sketchy at best). But there's a scene in it that I still like, though it'll have to have some reworking to fit the new plot.

Michael is a communications officer on the Free Merchant Ship Donau. Atesh is a mercenary, but Michael doesn't know that. The Donau is taking Atesh's company to their next mission, and the Donau believes they're humanitarian aid workers. So, onward. (And this is still sort of first-draft-ish.)

The bunks on the Donau had not been designed with trysts in mind. The overhead light was too bright, and the bedside lamps, while less blinding, were fixed in position on the door-side wall. Michael had figured out a way to cover it to make it less obtrusive, but there was no way to change the narrow beds without taking the ship apart.

Michael pressed his back against Atesh’s chest, still warm and slightly sweaty from sex. “A guy could get used to this,” he said.

“Used to what?” Atesh draped his arm across Michael’s waist and lazily stroked his chest with a rough finger.

“Getting laid more often than every few weeks when he’s on station leave. The hand is a poor substitute for a good man.” He realized he’d miss Atesh when he was gone, and not just for the sex. He’d started to consider him a friend.

Atesh chuckled. “Maybe I should lay off a bit. Don’t want to leave you disappointed, when you drop us off and go back.”

Michael turned in the narrow bed and faced Atesh. “I think I’d rather take advantage of the situation while I can.” He trailed his hand over Atesh’s back and rested it on his hip. “We can keep in touch, you know. Meet up if we’re in the same place at the same time.”

Atesh ran rough fingers down Michael’s spine and over his ass. “I’d like that.” He shifted his weight and pushed Michael onto his back, then knelt over him, legs between Michael’s thighs. Michael wrapped his legs around Atesh’s hips and pulled him closer. Atesh kissed him, tongue sliding between his lips.

“Take advantage while we can, shall we?” Atesh murmured in his ear. His tongue traced the curve of Michael’s ear, and Michael raked fingernails down Atesh’s back.

“That’s an excellent plan,” Michael replied.

28 August 2009

Onward and upward, to great ... whatever.

So. The romance version of Blue Danube Waltz was roundly rejected. Happens. So after that, I had to decide what to do with it: resubmit or rewrite. I opted to rewrite as a novel-length piece.

However, upon further reflection (and badgering of my friends), I came to realize that the plot as I envisioned it was unworkable. So I was back to square one! After a couple rounds of emails with Liz, the kernel of a plot had started to grow, but all was vague! Liz suggested writing a one-sentence version of the plot, then one paragraph, three paragraphs, and seven. I managed to get that, but I skipped three and went to five, followed by two pages.

Now I'm staring at the opening chapter, with two scenes begun and about 950 words. Hmm, if I get 50 words into this third scene, I'll have an even thousand. I know I have a lot of going back and filling in in the first 2 scenes. That's fine. I had to get the seeds planted so they can germinate while I do other things.

Apparently this time I'm trying the outline thing, but not working in a strictly linear fashion. I'll probably have more luck going linear once I get the opening muddled through.

Also, holy crap, Dragon*Con is in less than a week. We're leaving Thursday morning. I've got my costume pretty close, though I have to redraft the sleeves. That sounds like no fun.

In other news entirely, I'm still enjoying the taiji weapons class I'm taking. I learned a stick form, which is also usable as a broadsword form, and a Chen broadsword form (which is really short, but awesomely violent when you look at the applications). Right now I'm learning fan form. I'm, like, 10 postures in, and I just got to open the fan. It's also fairly short, but it's pretty and different.

17 August 2009

Another no, more on Berlin

Space opera romance was rejected. Probably for the better, because I'm not really a romance writer. I like reading romances, good ones anyway, but I'm not of the mindset to write books that romance readers would enjoy.

So I'm trying to figure out how to turn the story into a full-length, straight-up space opera with romancey bits in. I despair of finding enough material to fill it out. We'll see.

I've decided that, barring a global H1N1 pandemic, I'll do the Goethe Institut in Berlin in April. I just need to decide whether I want to look into renting an apartment through Craigslist (some run 15E/day, which is about the same as the homestay fee) or do the homestay. Staying in Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain is an inducement, really, so... hum. I have a friend who's planning to move there in the next couple months, so I'll get her input later.

And for our 10th anniversary, Ben & I are planning a trip to Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest for the beginning of May. Probably 1.5-2 weeks, since I don't want to short-change any cities. Three-four days per city sounds reasonable, though maybe 2 in Bratislava? (It's the Habsburg dual-monarchy tour!)

11 August 2009


So, this weekend was the annual nerds go to the beach weekend. We went to the beach, with a bunch of nerds from the anime club. Bringing food to cook in the hotel rooms was a good idea, and it saved money, though heading to the Mexican restaurant in Carolina Beach to eat dinner and drink pitchers of margarita was a necessity. Going for beer afterwards may not have been required, but we did it anyway. It was actually kinda cool -- for non-draft beer, you walked into the cooler and picked up a bottle you wanted. I tried Sam Adams' Blackberry Wit. It was pretty good, actually.

The ocean tried to kill me. The waves were rougher than I can remember on any beach trips over the last 8 years or so, and it seemed like the tide was always coming in. (It was a full moon.) I didn't get to spend much time in the ocean, because I don't like waves going over my head, and when I was standing in shallow enough water (waist deep or so), I got caught in an outgoing wave while an incoming one was breaking. So I sat in my chair on the sand and watched.

The weekend before last I was in Oregon for a family reunion-y thing on the husband's side. They're all outdoorsy, hiking types, so I spent most of the weekend alone and bored. Though the call of free wifi at Timberline Lodge was hard to resist, so I went up there for a few hours one day to attempt to catch up on my intarwebs.

That also involved a lot of cooking at home, and I was roped into making vegetarian food the night steak was the main course. Here is a recipe for the improvised grilled tofu I made. It turned out well. Since tofu is a sponge for other flavors, it mostly tasted like balsamic vinegar, which I won't complain about.

Thankfully, I have nothing on tap for the coming weekend. The following weekend I'm working, then I have one off, then it's Dragon*Con. I need to get sewing on my costume. I cut the pattern out of the giant sheet of paper, but I need to trace it and alter it a hair (I'm short, so I always have to shorten the back length) then mark, cut, and sew. Should be ... fun. At least it doesn't require extreme fitting like the Victorian ones.

Also, it's revoltingly hot here. The Triangle area is the hottest spot in the southeast right now. Tomorrow it's only supposed to be 88! A break from the 100 degree stretch we've had! Hey, my bell peppers are looking to ripen nicely, at least.

I was also reminded that I didn't write anything about my Asheville trip last month. I got the pictures off the camera, finally. Maybe I'll write something later this week.

03 August 2009

(Mostly) Confidential to Ben's mom

This is my metric for androgynous (yes, that's a dude):

(via mana_shrine0.tripod.com)

This doesn't even trigger my androgyny radar:

(via tarkanvisual.blogspot.com)

Mammoth book of dudes who write SF.

Take a viddy at the table of contents of the Mammoth Book of Mind-blowing SF. What do you notice about the names in the list? Go on, think a second. I'll wait.

Done? Have a guess? OK, the list is composed of stories by men. Exclusively by men. What this suggests to me, as a woman who writes science fiction (space opera, even), is that there's still a popular notion, among editors and/or readers of a certain age, perhaps, that Girls Don't Write Mind-blowing SF.

Hmm. CJ Cherryh writes some damn good Hugo-winning SF. Lois McMaster Bujold writes some damn good Hugo-winning SF. Ursula LeGuin has written some damn good Hugo-winning SF. The table of contents of The New Space Opera has 4 female names on the list, out of 18 stories. Not quite 25%, which isn't *bad* representation, but it could be better. The New Space Opera 2 has 3 female names out of 19, for a slightly worse representation. But both are far better than 0/21.

I'll be passing on this "mindblowing" SF collection, methinks. (Hat tip to Jim Hines.)

28 July 2009

Outlined a synopsis!

Well, drafted it, really. By hand. Due to some quirk left over from high school, I think best holding pen and paper, at least in the organizational stages.

I started on it this afternoon after finishing Turn Coat, around 3 or so. I had this odd sense of my head being full of cotton and bees, a general sign that I could be getting a headache, but I ignored it, willing it to go away. But around 4, my brain said, "Hey, you're going to sleep now. Put that pen down and grab a pillow." A few minutes later, I woke up and it was 4:35. I felt better, though.

And I got to finish the first draft after dinner. I'll revise as I type it up tomorrow.

27 July 2009

Second draft!

Thanks to my ability to focus when I'm stuck against a deadline, I got 4000 words written on Friday, then another 1600 or so Saturday and today, including editing and expositing.

Now I wait for my beta reader(s) to get back to me with crit. Hopefully before I vanish without internet access for 3 days. In the meantime, I'm working out the query and synopsis.

I need to make it as polished as I can in ... 2 weeks. God. Nobody pro waits this long to do this stuff.

And have another Tarkan video: Sorma Kalbim. Watch him emote. (Speaking of Turkish, so far I can count to ten. Except I can never remember ... is it 7 or 8? one of them, anyway.)

25 July 2009

Vacation, editing, and a rejection

First, the rejection. I wrote a piece of flash fiction (a story under 1000 words) earlier this year, and I submitted it in March. I got periodic updates, saying that my story had made it past the first and second cut, which was pretty awesome, really. I finally got the note saying it had been rejected the other day. But the feedback in the letter was fairly positive -- most of the 8 reviewers liked it, and one said it was among their favorites. So my spirit isn't crushed, though I'd (obviously) have preferred for them to buy it. Ah well. I'll look at revising it a bit and send it to a couple more places, after I'm done editing this stupid novella.

Nice segue. So, I'd finished the first draft last I mentioned it. Then while I was sitting on it for a couple weeks, I started hating the second half. I asked my beta readers, and they agreed that it was pretty weak. So I floundered a bit, trying to figure out WTF to do with the 13K words at the end, since I don't have much time to rewrite them before the submission closes. One of my betas gave me an idea that I thought would save me a ton of rewriting, but I was wrong. So I've basically rewritten 10K words or so since Tuesday morning. I would like to die now, plz. (Not really.) The story is stronger, I think, and I hope I can get it edited into publishable format before ... the 10th. With 2 planned vacations in the middle and a 2-day orientation (unpaid, boo) for another potential temp placement. And get the synopsis done and write a decent query letter.

Shoot me? I guess I can spend some time synopsizing on Delta next weekend. Though both my flights are at shitty times as far as consciousness goes: 6:30 am out and a red-eye back from Oregon. Bleh.

Look there. It's another segue. So I'm going to Oregon next weekend for a family get-together thing on my MIL's side. Should be interesting, though I had enough of Oregon during my residency, TYVM. At least summer shouldn't involve constant rain. Ugh. Then the weekend after that, I'm heading to the beach with the anime club. Based on past experience, I'll have No Time to work on writing. At all. But I hope to get the stupid thing sent out before we go.

So, I'm trying to decide whether to take two of my favorite movies with me. They're both brilliant, but neither is particularly happy. German movies tend not to be.

One is Gegen die Wand, a movie by Fatih Akin about two Turks living in Germany and how they react to being there. The male lead, Cahit, has excised everything Turkish from his life, while the female lead, Sibel, chafes under her parents' strict traditionality. I saw it while I was living in Oregon, and it was a beautiful sucker punch to the gut.

The other is The Lives of Others, which won an Oscar the other year for best foreign language film. It's about a playwright living in East Berlin in 1985 or so and the Stasi agent assigned to spy on him. It's a fairly authentic portrayal of life in the DDR (with a bit of artistic license, of course), according to people who lived there. Folk singer Wolf Biermann said that the tale matched part of his own life. (He had quite a file in the Stasi's archive.)

I don't know if there'd be an audience for them out there, or even anything to watch DVDs on in the rental house. The second movie has a happier ending, in a way, but there's still a heaping spoonful of tragedy. One thing I remember from living in Germany is the person who said, "You Americans, always with the happy ending." I have to say, she may have had a point.

On a happier note, have a Tarkan video. See why I'm obsessing?

20 July 2009

Attention span of a gnat on speed

Or, as I like to call it, fannish ADD. I have eleventy million shiny things I like, and each one is my all time favorite shiny thing of the day. Until the next one comes along, of course. I still love my older shiny things, but they're not as interesting as the new thing. Until the new thing is less new and I go back to the old ones (or the next new one.)

So. Tarkan. German-born Turkish pop singer. Makes damn catchy dance tracks, which blend traditional Turkish music and modern western dance rhythms. The top picture on wikipedia isn't very flattering at all, but here are some much nicer pictures. I got 2 of his CDs (Karma and Dudu), and they're stuck in my head, fairly permanently.

A friend of mine, the fabulous Liz, talked about him a few years ago, and I agreed, yeah, he's pretty hot, and that video she linked to was, too, but I never bought anything. Until like a week ago, when I suddenly HAD TO HAVE IT NOW. And thanks to the magic of the internet, I do.

And I've been toying with learning Turkish for a few years now, and I bought a book (for $9) to see how much I can teach myself and how I do at it, without spending the big bucks on Rosetta Stone. Though I suspect I might do that, eventually. I can tell it's going to be hard to get the pronunciations right without a teacher (though pop music can help! Sort of.) Also, the vowel harmony might kill me. I'm just glad Atatürk scrapped the old writing system (based on Arabic letters) and made his own, based on the Roman alphabet. It's pretty, but the wikipedia article made my head spin.

I still plan to do the Goethe Institut, but it's looking more likely that I'll do that in spring, possibly in Dresden, and I'm hoping to spend a week in Berlin in early November, but Ben's trying to talk me out of two international trips in 6 months. (Also, swine flu. I'll see what the pandemic situation looks like this winter before making any decisions on that.)

So, I'm sure y'all are wondering if, or how, this is relevant to my writing. It is, of course! One of the characters in Blue Danube Waltz is a mercenary (sorry, private security personnel). I recycled a name I'd picked for a character in a story I scrapped, about a Turkish family living in Berlin, Atesh. (It's actually spelled with an s-cedille, which is pronounced sh, but a) I can't find it in any keyboard map, and b) my audience would go, "bwuh?", so I'm opting for phonetics.) I was trying to figure out what he looked like, and I thought, "Hmm, he has green eyes." Then my little brain hamster spun on its wheel, and my next thought was, "Ooh, Tarkan has green eyes." And it spiraled downward from there.

(Yes, people of Central Asia can have green eyes. It's about as uncommon as it is among Western Europeans, but it happens.)

One thing I like about writing is that I can indulge my completely random interests in the name of research for a story. It's pretty freakin awesome, if you ask me!

16 July 2009

I get bad ideas.

About a year ago, I was lamenting the fact that I didn't have vacation time to burn so I could take a Goethe Institut course. They have 2-, 4-, and 8-week intensives throughout Germany, and they're highly reputable. They offer the Test of German as a Foreign Language, though it's called something else, which is The Way to get a job in Germany as a furrner. They also have German for Professionals (business, IT, etc), so you can learn your jargon.

I majored in German (and chemistry) in college. I spent my junior year there. My skills are atrophying, sadly. I can read, for example, Spiegel, but my conversation ability is diminished. I can also write in German, though I need to check words in the dictionary sometimes. I'd love a refresher.

I took their online placement test, and it said I should take the C1 course, which is the second highest skill level. (You take another placement test when you get there, then another when you finish. Theoretically, you ought to move up.)

It occurred to me last night that, with this whole not working full time thing, I could hare off to Berlin for a month, and I wouldn't have to worry about vacation time or anything. I just wouldn't be able to work for that month, so I'd probably have to pick up extra shifts before and after to make up for it. (The joy of temping.)

I did a finances check, and I could afford it. Air fare is decent at the moment. And a careful plan could mean I'm in Berlin for some of the 20th anniversary of Mauerfall stuff. But that's in three months. Also, it'll be cold then. I'd like to go to Berlin sometime when it's warm, like spring or summer.

Argh. I have time now, and money, but I can't convince myself it's a good idea.

11 July 2009

Netbook photos!

As you can see, Prussia (my netbook) is tiny.

Here it is sitting on the 15" MacBook.

And here we have Prussia sitting next to a standard hardcover novel.

And here's a height comparison.

Yes, tiny.

10 July 2009

My tech skills are mighty. Sorta.

OK, my google-fu is strong.

I just got an Asus EeePC 900 4G (it's purple with little swirls on it. Hush.) Problematically, the wireless card didn't work, and since the thing's a netbook, the point is kind of that you take it places and use wireless internet. Which defeats the purpose somewhat.

So I poked around on the web, found some forum stuff, and nothing really worked. I got a friend to come over and bring a bootable disk to install Ubuntu, and that didn't fix it. It gave me a nicer user interface, though, which is great, because the default Asus one made me want to stab somebody (namely the person who wrote it. God, it's completely non-intuitive, despite most likely being designed to be incredibly intuitive, for kids or anyone who's not familiar with computers. Which doesn't apply to me.)

Anyway. I got my google on. I downgraded the kernel to intrepid (after having updated it to jaunty). In order to make that work, I had to edit the grub boot list. (That would be google "kernel downgrade".)

I followed these instructions for installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix and its hacks, though I didn't get down to the stuff for Fn keys and fan control; I don't think that's a problem. I might go back and do it later, though it's probably not necessary, considering the other things I did later. The eee repository at array.org was also useful, though their instructions made me O_o. (The previous link is good.)

Having done all that, the wifi still didn't work. On a whim, I changed my network settings on my wireless router, and ... it worked. OK. Whatever.

The Fn key toggles for the wireless card didn't work, so I followed these solutions for problems with jaunty on eeepcs. Because, for some reason, I have terrible luck getting things like updates to work, I then went to the EeePC wiki at statux.org. I followed the directions for fixing the hotkeys and wireless toggle, though it didn't quite work. I can toggle the wireless card off, but not back on, despite putting the text in the grub file as directed. I can work around that, anyway, because I can just not turn off the wireless card if I'm going to want to use it before rebooting. An inelegant solution, true, but it works. I'll have to keep an eye out for any updates to that.

But anyway, now that my Eee PC 900 works, I'm a lot happier with it. I assume if you get one of the Windows ones, it won't be this much of a pain in the neck. But I don't do Windows.

08 July 2009

Plenty of work...

I just picked up 45 hours of work over the next 2 weeks, in 5 shifts. I'm going to spend several days on the coast (ish), sleeping in a hotel. Not that I'll have time or energy to drive down to the beach, of course. One ... nice? aspect of this traveling pharmacist gig is that I get to see a lot of parts of the state that I haven't seen before. Of course, they're mostly out east in the Sandhills.

I ordered a netbook last week, but UPS isn't bringing it to me. The tracking page says "in transit to final destination," from the Chapel Hill hub, since 11:23 yesterday morning. I could freakin drive there and pick it up myself faster than waiting for it. Grr. I wanna play with my new toy. *stalks UPS tracking page*

05 July 2009

Draft complete!

I finished the first draft. It's almost 26,000 words. The first third are intro, the next 10,000 or so are actiony bits, and the remainder are tying up threads and denouement. I've sent it to my awesome friend for beta reading, and in the meantime, I'll work on the synopsis and cover letter. And read some more nonfiction about pre-WW1 Europe.

I haven't taken the pictures from Asheville off the camera yet, but I'll do that sometime this week.

I had two assignments for my job last week. The first was a day of training on the computer, at half pay, and the second, I was actually in charge, at full pay. So I bought a netbook. It's sitting in a UPS warehouse in Ohio, waiting for someone to drive it east.

I submitted an alternate history short story on Tuesday. I don't know whether they'll take it. And I'm still waiting on the story I submitted in March. If I hear anything, I'll be sure to post about it, positive or negative.

25 June 2009

Going on vacation

For our 9th anniversary, Ben & I are going to Asheville for a long weekend. There will likely be pictures.

Monday I get to drive to Fayetteville for training, then after that, I can start working. Yay.

I've got 20,000 words in my novella, and the last section is sketched out. I can do this. Woo.

19 June 2009

Looking up!

I've got about 14500 words on the space opera action romance novella. I'm vaguely concerned it's not fast paced enough, since the action doesn't start until about 12000 words in. But there's romancey bits in the first half.

I got an email from the editor I submitted my supershort story to, saying it had made it past the second round and was into the final winnowing stage. I'm not sure whether to be hopeful or more nervous, because it's like, I've made it this far, then what if they reject it? I don't want to crash too hard on that, you know?

I just got a call from the staffing agency, saying work is picking up, and they can get me work down toward Fayetteville and Wilmington a couple days a week. I just get to schedule a drug test and go to an orientation (at half pay.) Pretty cool.

I'm still paying attention to the situation in Iran. I don't know if Mousavi would be a huge difference for the country (he's still a supporter of the Islamic Republic, from what I've read), but the people are protesting Ahmadinejad's re-election, and Khamenei is telling them to shut up and deal with it, Ahmadi is God's chosen. Any time a regime clings so desperately to their power, it seems to me that they're more terrified of what will happen if they let go. Also, we can't forget that American interventionism helped get where they are today, since the 1953 installation of "our" guy into power helped foment unrest that led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

15 June 2009

Free elections for Iran

Iran held an election late last week. Gawker (of all places) has a good recap of the events.

Record numbers of Iranians turned out to vote, and within hours of the polls' closing, the government announced that Ahmadinejad had won with 60% of the votes, while his opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom most people believed was going to win, took only 30%.

Naturally, people disputed the results. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came out and said they must support the winner, Ahmadinejad.

And the people started protesting, which turned into riots, which ended up with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard shooting at college students, whom they'd besieged in the dorms at a university in Tehran. pictures (graphic) more pictures (text in Farsi)

Mousavi and his supporters are marching in Tehran and other cities today. The UN (or was it EU?) has called for investigations into the election. Laughably, Ayatollah Khamenei has called for an investigation into the election he likely rigged.

One twitter user, @persiankiwi, commented that it was just like 1979, when the revolution to overthrow the Shah happened. He was there.

The government is reportedly blocking internet access to sites like twitter, facebook, and blogs. People are sharing proxy servers so Iranians can send updates from inside. The #iranelection tag on twitter is busy. Not all reports are verifiable, of course.

I'm not qualified to comment on whether this marks the beginning of a new Iran, but I stand with the supporters of a free Iran, with real democratic elections. I support the brave men and women who are gathering to protest the oppressive regime, risking their lives.

08 June 2009

Some new projects and a new geek thing

So, since I've got all this time not working, I've got lots of time to write. It's great.

I'm working on a space opera romance novella, which I hope to get a first draft completed by the 4th of July and use the following weeks to revise and edit before sending it in.

I've got a completed alternate history short story (untitled) that I'm waiting for some commentary on before submitting it.

I'm still awaiting word on the super short I sent in back in March. Longer wait is better, right? *crosses fingers*

So aside from that, I've been geeking on Axis Powers Hetalia, which is a delightfully charming, slightly offensive take on world history, using personifications of countries as a conglomeration of their stereotypes. For example, America is overly enthusiastic and loves hamburgers and being in charge, while Japan has an excellent miniatures industry. It's in Japanese, but you can click links at the official site, or look at an English-language fan site. The artist has a blog (also in Japanese, obviously. No, I have no idea what's going on.)

30 May 2009

Not working, week the second

Once again, I seem to be lax about writing in this blog; I'll try to be better about that!

So far, I don't really miss working. I'm sure I'll miss getting paid soon enough, but for now, I'm enjoying having all day to do stuff. I've written an 1800-word short story (waiting for a beta reader to get back to me; maybe I should poke him), read more of King, Kaiser, Tsar - I'm about halfway through; it's 1901, and Edward VII has just assumed the throne - and written some fanfic. I have 2 more fanfics to write, then I can get cracking on the space opera-romance novella (due 8/10.) And intersperse editing of the short story, which is due by the end of June.

Memorial Day Weekend was Animazement, an anime con which is now in Raleigh. The previous 7 years or so, it was at the Sheraton in RTP, but it was getting seriously crowded in there, with 5K people and some very large costumes. This year we moved to the brand new Raleigh Convention Center, and were the first non-government function to use the building. There were a few growing pains, but the space was definitely ample. I spent most of the con sitting in Artists' Alley working the table our club rented. There were three of us; the other two sold drawings, and I was selling crocheted things. I made a Kirby (from the Nintendo games), and it sold in about 2 minutes. One of the other girls and I were thinking about ways to improve it for next year, including displays and products, and since she's visually creative, it's up to her.

So, yeah. I'm thinking I could sell old CDs and books and whatnot on Amazon. I have a lot of things I'm not fond of at this point, so they're just clutter - and I could get a few bucks for them in the process! Of course, convincing Pack-Rat-Ben that getting rid of things is a good plan is another matter entirely.

19 May 2009

On not working, writing, and tai chi

This not having a job thing is kinda cool. It didn't really hit me until Monday morning, because I'd planned on taking last Thursday & Friday off for a 4-day tai chi seminar. I'm liking it so far, but ask me again when I've run my bank account down.

I've technically got employment at a staffing firm, but they aren't making promises about when they can find work for me, even a shift a week. So. If it gets to be mid-June and there aren't any nibbles, I'll shop my resume around to some chains, and specify that I'm looking for 10-20 hours a week, rather than saying part time, because *last time* I did that, I was offered 72 hrs/2 weeks. Which doesn't quite meet my definition of part time, you know?

So I've had more time to write, which is useful. Well, the last 2 days, anyway. I was sort of braindead Thursday-Sunday. So I've got a rough draft of an alternate history short story, which might have an ending, though it sort of just stops. I'm not quite sure what to do with it beyond that. ... Oh, wait. I think I know. I've got some notes in my outline that I thought weren't relevant when the story changed, but I can work with that. It's 1600 words at the moment; and the upper limit for the submissions is 8000. So I'm good.

I also got a notice that a super-short I submitted made it past the first reading stage. (Of three.) Fingers crossed for further success! I rather like that story, so I hope they take it.

I had a fun 4-day brain-killing tai chi seminar over the weekend. I got to work with people I don't normally have class with, and I got to find several ways I'm lazy in my practice. It's a two-person matched set, derived from an older Yang style form. So it's different than my usual Chen form, aside from being contact. Tai chi is usually solo, non-contact, but there are a few 2-person sets, and there's push-hands, which is a similar concept only not scripted.

One of the fun parts is the applications. Shoulder strikes, kicks, pushes, backwards shoves with a chest strike. But it's all slow-mo, unlike karate or Shaolin, so you don't get hurt. That's where I'm finding that I've got a lot of laziness. I don't hold my frame quite as well as I ought.

And, hey, now that I have an extra 8 hours every day? I can spend more time practicing! Can't really afford to take more classes, without a steady paycheck, but I can still work on my own.

08 May 2009

On history, alternate

I dig alternate histories. In theory, anyway; most of the published ones are about the Civil War or WW2. BORING!

So I'm having fun playing with Prussian history and making them less militaristic and averting WW1-as-we-know-it. I just finished The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, and I've started King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three royal cousins who led the world to war by Catrine Clay. Because my local library's German history selection is largely limited to the periods 1914-19 and 1939-45. I'm definitely buying the former; it's a neat reference and very not boring (despite being a play by play of the first month of WW1.) The latter I may have to buy just for the pictures, including uniform pr0n.

It's rather ironic, considering my penchant for social democracies, that I adore military SF and space opera. But it's all about the politics.

ObRandom: I can still pick German handwriting out of a line-up.

03 May 2009

H1N1, space opera, and alternate history

These things are not all related, except inasmuch as I'm interested in all of them.

I'm a pharmacist, if soon to be unemployed, and I've done a certificate in Field Epidemiology through UNC School of Public Health. I'm fascinated by infectious diseases. So of course I'm following this new influenza strain.

Key thing to remember right now is that it's not any more lethal than a seasonal flu, at least not in the US, but that viruses mutate readily, so there's potential for it to be more lethal. Something like H1N1/1918 (Spanish flu) is most likely not going to be the case; there were a lot of extenuating circumstances in 1918 (World War I and troop movements, taking the virus along with them, for example.) We've got better drugs and better technology now, and we've got people working on preparedness stuff.

If public health works, nothing happens. Which is to say, if public health authorities are on the ball, encouraging social distancing, hand hygiene, and cough etiquette, then the outbreak will be contained. Unfortunately, the public perception will too often be, "Oh, they were exaggerating! Next time, I'll just ignore them." BAD PLAN.

I saw a call for submissions from Samhain Press (on The Galaxy Express SF/romance blog) for space opera romance novellas. I'm all over that! In my soon-to-be copious free time. Those are due 8/1.

I'm working on (sort of) an alternate history short story (5-10K) for June submission to Crossed Genres. I have an idea, and I'm researching stuff, hoping that the seed will grow into something usable.

Those two things are related, since the alternate history is the basis for the space opera. (Imperialism in space. Can't exactly grow from current history. Or could, but I like alt.hist stuff.)

If the weather stops going back and forth between sunny and cloudy and looking like it's gonna rain, I can go take a walk. (Added bonus of not working: more time to exercise.)

30 April 2009

I just quit my job.

For a variety of reasons, which I won't go into here.

But hey. I'll have a lot more time to work on the half dozen projects I've got lined up! Maybe even write a novel! (Or edit the crap out of the one I've finished already.)

27 April 2009

History is cool.

Learning history in US high schools is bollocks. As I commented elsewhere, my high-school-based knowledge of World War I could be summarized this way: Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand, Germany invades Belgium, lots of people die, the Lusitania, more people die, and the Treaty of Versailles.

That's the problem with having US history in two years and that being the only major source of your historical knowledge. You don't get the big picture, and you miss a lot.

I learned about the Weimar Republic and how the Reparations dictated by Versailles made the economy of Germany worse, which only encouraged the anti-Semitism (long known in Europe) and hatemongering that allowed the NSDAP to come to power, through my studies of German and reading on my own. There were other factors, of course, but the way history is taught is a gross oversimplification that serves no one.

I'm reading Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, which details the outbreak and first month of World War I (August 1914). It's very well-written, with insights into the personalities and character flaws of the major players on *both* sides. The battle descriptions kind of bog down, but there are maps. I hope reprints fixed some of the minor problems with regiment number placement on the maps; the copy I have checked out from the library is from 1962.

In that mood already, I picked up my copy of Im Westen nichts Neues. I own copies both in German and English (All Quiet on the Western Front). I got the copy in English for ... AP English maybe? It's got lots of notes in it. The German one was a Christmas gift from a German woman I met when I was living in Marburg. She was from Dresden, and she did an exchange to my college the next year.

There's a paragraph in the frontispiece: This book should be neither an accusation nor an acknowledgement. It is only an attempt to report about a generation that was destroyed by war - even if they escaped the shells.

23 April 2009

My letter to MANAA


I am writing to express my support for your efforts regarding the whitewashing of the Avatar: the Last Airbender movie. I'm saddened that Paramount doesn't see how discriminatory their casting call was, let alone the final casting.

I love Avatar because it's not a European-fantasy story, but draws from the diverse cultures of Asia. There are plenty of European-fantasy stories in existence, and it's disingenuous of Paramount to claim that they're "increasing diversity" by making the story about white people.

I'm Caucasian (and an adult), and I can identify with the leads in Avatar. They're real characters, *humans*, with goals and dreams and traumatic pasts. I can recognize my teenage self in Katara, in Zuko. I can feel Aang's pain at seeing his entire nation wiped out. Hollywood's belief that white people are the most important audience and that we won't like movies or shows with non-white (male) leads is appalling, and it contributes to the perpetuation of a non-diverse system.

The film Paramount is making isn't the Avatar I love. I won't be seeing it.

Thank you for your hard work on this issue, and I urge you not to give up.

20 April 2009

On old projects and new

So. I've got this novel I've been working on sporadically over the last 7 years. It's not very good. I feel somehow obligated to take it from the first draft where it is to a revised draft, adding in a bunch of stuff, like descriptions.

Problem is, I don't really want to. It's too overwhelming, and I want to move on to a different project. I think the dicta of "the first novel belongs in your basement" and "you'll only improve if you keep writing" are having an effect.

It's true, I've been trying to write short stories (with some success; I'm revising the crap out of the one that was rejected, though mostly I want to kill it with fire. It needs a lot of work, and I haven't got the time to wrangle it. Though that might be a focus issue.) Still waiting to hear back on the piece of flash I submitted. I think that was better written, tighter, because it had a harder word limit. It lacks plot, but it's sort of a milieu story, so.

I've been taken by a long-timeline story bug lately. Starting with an alternate history (diverging in 1888 to cause a different series of events in 1914, which then basically alters 20th century history as we know it) and going up a thousand years into the future, with space colonies and things.

I'd rather work on that. I can start with an actual plot, timeline, and characters, rather than making shit up as I went along. I've got ... 3 or 4 stories I can work on, once I figure out some more things. World War 1 was fascinating in its clusterfucktasticness.

14 April 2009

The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart: MEMORY by LM Bujold

I could read this book a hundred times and not get tired of it. While it's the best of LMB's Miles books, it's the worst place to pick up the series: you need the emotional investment in the characters for this one to hit you.

It's a book with a lot of growing up and good advice. I daresay it's inspirational.

Jo Walton has an excellent post over at Tor.com (Beware: there are spoilers!) I'd sort of hoped to have this up before she got to hers (so I could blatantly self-promote in comments), but some Life intervened over the weekend.

This could be a companion piece to The Mountains of Mourning. In MoM, Miles learns who Lord Vorkosigan is and develops the anchor to Barrayar that is his identity. In Memory, Miles finds Lord Vorkosigan who was lost, suffocated almost, by Admiral Naismith.

Toward the beginning of the book, Miles goes back to Silvy Vale, with the plan of visiting Raina Csurik's grave, but plans never work out, and he spends the day visiting Harra and the Raina Csurik school (and drinking maple mead with the locals.)

It's a story about becoming the person you want to be. Miles' friend Elena quits the Dendarii Mercenaries to live peacefully on a planet and raise children, because she's been a soldier and she wants to see what else she can be. When Miles is heading back to Barrayar, he tells Sgt Taura that he wants the freedom to be as he as he can.

More after the cut:
In Silvy Vale, Miles has a conversation with Harra Csurik about, well, life and everything after. He's telling her about the abrupt shift in his life, and how the plans he'd laid for himself have gang aglee.

"You go on. You just go on. There's nothing more to it, and there's no trick to make it easier. You just go on."

"What do you find on the other side? When you go on?"

She shrugged. "Your life again. What else?"

"Is that a promise?"

She picked up a pebble, fingered it, and tossed it into the water. Moon-lines bloomed and danced. "It's an inevitability. No trick. No choice. You just go on."

Miles is still suffering from Great Man's Son Syndrome:

How could you be a Great Man if history brought you no Great Events, or brought you to them at the wrong time, too young, too old? Too damaged.

But he comes to a realization, while thinking about family traditions: The Vorkosigan family has always served the Imperium faithfully, and Barrayar has been cruel to them.

Naismith was obsessed with winning at all costs, and being seen to have won.

And Vorkosigan ... Vorkosigan couldn't surrender.

It wasn't quite the same thing, was it? [...]

A hillman, dumb as his rocks, just didn't know how to quit. I am the man who owns Vorkosigan Vashnoi.

Vorkosigan Vashnoi that had been nuked from orbit during the Cetagandan invasion and was still a blighted, twisted radioactive wasteland, and gifted to Miles from his grandfather.

The story is part mystery, part romance, part personal growth. We see a new side of Gregor, a very different Simon, and a more matured Ivan (the ass Miles can trust absolutely, to handle the high explosives he might find. We tend to forget that "that idiot Ivan" is Vor, with everything it entails.)

09 April 2009

Reading, reading, not writing

I'm working through Memory, slowly but surely. I wish I had a large block of time so I could get through it and blog about its awesomeness, but with several other projects, hobbies, and a 40-hr job, I've got to budget my time like a mad budgeting thing.

Project 1: Making stuff for Artists' Alley at Animazement (Memorial Day weekend); attempt to make something for art show. Time budgeted: 2 hours/week (while watching House & Heroes); one additional hour if Kings isn't canceled.

Project 2: Reading up on World War 1. Right now, working through Tuchman's The Guns of August. It's written in an easily readable style, rather than the extremely dull textbook version of history. I've decided that Kaiser Wilhelm II was the George W. Bush of his time, which makes a lot of early 20th century history more accessible. Time budgeted: Whenever I can fit it in.

Project 3: Writing. Revising a short story, revising a novel. Time budgeted: 1 hr + Thursday evenings, whatever I can fit in on weekends (usually a couple hours each day.)

Hobby 1: Tai chi. I have one class, Wednesday 6-7:30. I also have to practice, and now that I am learning multiple routines, I need to allot more practice time. Time budgeted: 20 minutes weekday mornings, 1-2 hours per weekend (outside!)

Hobby 2: anime. I love those cartoons. Luckily, I'm not following very many shows right now, so my weekly gathering of nerds (Tuesdays 7-10, dinner @5:30) is sufficient. Anything I'm trying to keep up with (Gundam 00 just ended, Tytania should be close, but I'm way behind on it) I fit an episode in here and there.

Hobby 3: Reading. That's sort of a given! I don't have any time budgeted per se for this one. I'll relax in the evening with a book, usually between 9 and 10 (when old people like me turn into pumpkins.) But 3 nights a week, I'm doing something else between 9 and 10, so it's another "when I can." Though I can oftentimes manage to read while I'm at the day job, on downtime. I've got The Guns of August with me today.

Plus things like hanging out with friends, spending time with my husband, playing with the cats, and sewing (which I'm taking a break from, ohgod I need it.)

This is why I wish I were independently wealthy. I wouldn't have to go to work 8 hours a day, and I could use that time on all the things I like to do.

02 April 2009


I am faced with a ... not a conundrum, really, but a thing to wonder about.

When I started writing Nothing Beside Remains in, uh, late 2001? early 2002? Something like that, anyway, I had vague senses of where things would go and what would happen and what their culture was like. I'd put in some things that were vague, since I figured I'd go back and fix it later. You're not really supposed to admit that you're just making it up as you go along, but I sort of was. I mean, I knew where everything was going, in general, and sort of how they got there, but... yeah.

I finished it in 2005, and have been lethargically editing it ever since. I finally got it all typed up around Christmas, so now I'm faced with the task of, uh, making it not suck. Because suck it does. It's a first draft; that's sort of a tautology.

Anyway. I'm not sure when the fighter types became Chinese martial artists, but they did, down to learning forms in temples (think Shaolin monks.) That was part of it from the beginning, but it was one of those vagaries that I hadn't laid out. And since I started studying tai chi, my philosophy has developed somewhat, and since I'm learning weapons now, I'm delving further into the philosophy of weapons styles.

Interesting. And maybe one of these years I'll sit down and write out every worldbuildy detail that's in my head. Or maybe I'll save that for when it's necessary: the giganto alternate history and future space opera thing.

31 March 2009

Novellas I love: The Mountains of Mourning

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favorite currently-working writers. My buddy Phil introduced me to her books while we were stuck in an airport on weather delays. Now I have an entire shelf devoted to her books (though since the Sharing Knife books are hardcover, they're on a different shelf for oversize books.)

The Mountains of Mourning is set shortly after Miles' graduation from the Imperial Service Academy, and his plans for a relaxing two-week home leave between graduation and finding out his assignment are shattered when a woman from the back country shows up at his doorstep to speak to Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan about the murder of her infant. Aral decides to send Miles to Silvy Vale as his Voice (and Lord Vorkosigan): both the messenger and the message.

Messenger and message, in one man: times are changing.

The hill woman sat on a hassock, a half-eaten oil cake clutched in her hands, staring open-mouthed at Miles in all his power and polish. As he caught and returned her gaze her lips pressed closed and her eyes lit. Her expression was strange — anger? Exhilaration? Embarrassment? Glee? Some bizarre mixture of all? And what did you think I was, woman?

Being in uniform (showing off his uniform?), Miles came to attention before his father. "Sir?"

Count Vorkosigan spoke to the woman. "That is my son. If I send him as my Voice, would that satisfy you?"

"Oh," she breathed, her wide mouth drawing back in a weird, fierce grin, the most expression Miles had yet seen on her face, "yes, my lord."

"Very well. It will be done."

Harra's daughter was born with harelip and cleft palate, you see, and Barrayar has an aversion to mutations, especially in the Vorkosigans' district, which got a hefty dose of radiation after the Cetagandan invasion 100 or so years before, when the Cetas nuked Vorkosigan Vashnoi. When Cordelia was pregnant with Miles, they were the targets of a teratogenic gas attack, which left Miles crippled.

His whole life, Miles has struggled to be worthy. He's got some big shoes to fill, when he becomes Count Vorkosigan:

And how much is he haunted by Grandfather? Miles wondered. He doesn't show it much. But then, he doesn't have to. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, space master strategist, conqueror of Komarr, hero of Escobar, for sixteen years Imperial Regent, supreme power on Barrayar in all but name. And then he'd capped it, confounded history and all self-sure witnesses and heaped up honor and glory beyond all that had gone before by voluntarily stepping down and transferring command smoothly to Emperor Gregor upon his majority. Not that the Prime Ministership hadn't made a dandy retirement from the Regency, and he was showing no signs yet of stepping down from that.

And so Admiral Aral's life took General Piotr's like an overpowering hand of cards, and where did that leave Ensign Miles? Holding two deuces and the joker. He must surely either concede or start bluffing like crazy....

I love this story, because it encapsulates Barrayar in under 100 pages: the history; the Time of Isolation; the Cetagandan invasion and the resistance led by one General Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan; the peculiarities of social norms. And Miles' growing realizations that Barrayar needs to change, that he loves this backward, barbaric ball of rock that eats its young. It's beautiful and sad.

We are all here by accident. Like the roses.

My only complaint is that there's no Ivan in this one, though young Ivan was a bit of an annoying cad. I'm rather glad the author got a better idea on that one ;) I adore Ivan.

You can read it at Baen's Webscriptions.

(Aside: Has anyone else noticed that General Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan has the same name twice? Since Piotr and Pierre are both equivalent to Peter? That's what the Vor naming conventions will get you.)